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The solution to maintaining energy level during a hike depends on a steady fuel supply.
For a hiker, food = fuel.
Sounds simple, but a lot of hikers don't think about how what they eat translates into their trail performance.
Let's take a closer look at why hiking energy waxes and wanes, and how to work with the fuel delivery process your body uses to keep you going.
Long story short: Glucose means sugar.
That's what your cells run on.
The human hiking body has a remarkable capacity for handling hourly fluctuations in fuel, much different than machines.
But if you have an empty fuel tank (your stomach), all of your systems remain on line, hour after hour.
Your hard working liver, and to a limited extent your skeletal muscles, deliver a steady supply of "fuel" to your cells in the form of glucose (a sugar molecule preferred by most cells).
This fuel delivery process happens whether or not you're hiking.
That's why you don't have to eat every five minutes, right? (Even if you feel like you want to.)
But on a hiking trail, your body depends on this constant flow of glucose to keep your energy levels high while you're exercising.
If you've eaten a decent breakfast, and plan to stop for a snack after a reasonable interval of hiking, you're in good shape to hit the trail.
Your liver has no trouble delivering a steady stream of fuel to your contracting skeletal muscles, your brain, your heart, and all other parts of your body: in other words, maintaining energy level to meet demand.
Sugars from your breakfast will be available in the bloodstream, thanks to your dependable and multi-tasking liver.
And don't forget the back story: digestion.
Also, the liver depends upon stored sugar (glycogen), which it built up & saved from excess sugar in previous meals.
Did you a second helping of pasta, bread, rice, cereal and other starchy carbohydrates the day before your hike?
That's how glycogen gets stashed away for later use.
Note the word "decent" tied to "breakfast". That's the key to maintaining energy level early in your hike.
Are you a fan of a sugar doughnut and a cup of coffee as you drive to the trail head?
Sure, that'll work.
But you're forcing your body to work harder than it should to regulate your blood sugar within fairly tight limits over long spans of time.
How about a bowl of oatmeal with a spoonful of brown sugar plus a handful of walnuts and dried fruit instead?
This mixed meal delivers carbohydrates for fast energy, plus some staying power from protein and fat.
That hiker breakfast outlined above provides "slow burn" fuel (glucose with fiber, vitamins and minerals) to keep you going until snack break.
Your liver doesn't have to scramble to regulate the amount of sugar entering your bloodstream by cutting up glycogen molecules into glucose.
Your gut might feel better, too!
Having digestive upsets on the trail? Read this.
Big spikes of blood sugar are harmful in the long run, because this places stress on the pancreas and impedes its ability to supply a hormone called insulin.
Without insulin, the sugar in your blood can't get into your cells.
Eventually, major organ systems begin to lose function: eyes, kidneys, immune system... that's called diabetes, and it's a chronic, life altering condition that no hiker wants to deal with.
Bottom line: To avoid long term trouble, avoid daily, large doses of sugary nutrient-poor foods. You know, candy bars!
Try a few of these ideas for maintaining a high energy level on your next hike.
They won't take a lot of money or elaborate preparations, but they will keep you fueled up.
Yup, even if that means getting up a half hour earlier.
If you're one of those people who pride themselves on "never eating breakfast", try seeing this choice from the perspective of your pancreas or liver on your next day hike.
Breakfast doesn't have to be complicated.
Or stash a few nutrient rich breakfast bars like these in your car or backpack and pull one out before you hit the trail.
One last idea: Whip up a nutrient dense smoothie of nut butter, your choice of milk, banana and flax the night before. Grab and go in the morning!
Backpackers, read these tips.
When you get strong hunger signals on the trail, stop within a few minutes and eat a snack.
Some folks carry a small bag of trail mix or dried fruit in a shirt pocket or accessible backpack pocket, and munch while they hike.
Don't ignore your hunger signals. It's like ignoring the EMPTY warning on your car's fuel gauge!
Paying attention to your hydration levels is also a smart move, because without water, your cells can't utilize all of the glucose in your bloodstream.
There are lots more tips for getting, and keeping, a high energy level in my Day Hiking Tips book!
Quote from a satisfied reader:
Commit to maintaining your energy levels during your hike and be amazed at how much further you can go, and feel great doing it!
You've only got one liver, one pancreas, and one hiking career.
So cooperate with your energy production system and you'll never have to face the "crash and burn" syndrome of hikers who rely on sugar laden trail food.
You're in it for the long haul, am I right?
In that case, read why protein is your second best friend on the trail.
Maintaining Energy Level